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Great Pumpkin Festival ushers in autumn

Posted: September 30, 2012 - 11:05pm
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Tania Wink, 33, hoists her 4-year-old son James Wink to touch the heaviest pumpkin at the second annual Great Pumpkin Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Saturday. Visitors to the fair guessed the pumpkin's weight, which was still undisclosed by noon, to win a door prize.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Tania Wink, 33, hoists her 4-year-old son James Wink to touch the heaviest pumpkin at the second annual Great Pumpkin Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Saturday. Visitors to the fair guessed the pumpkin's weight, which was still undisclosed by noon, to win a door prize.

Break out the pumpkin beer ... and the Caribbean pumpkin pasta, pumpkin macaroni and cheese, pumpkin mousse tort and pumpkin cookies with brown sugar icing.

Fall is here.

The Great Pumpkin Festival 2012 ushered in the autumn season Saturday by bringing the closest thing Juneau has to a pumpkin patch to the capital city.

The festival featured a culinary contest, pumpkin pie eating contest and traditional fair games for the kiddos at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

“I just love these things,” said Alexia Kiefer, 30, holding her 2-year-old son D.J. at her hip. “I’m glad that Juneau is really stepping it up and doing more things for the kids, especially seasonal. Kind of gets you into the season.”

Tania Wink, 33, said her family has been looking forward to the festival for the past week or so.

“It’s really great, and fall, autumn is our favorite season, especially with Halloween” Wink said. “... In Juneau we don’t have a pumpkin patch area where kids can go grab pumpkins, so it’s good to bring them here to do that stuff.”

She jokingly said she has lived and learned — they won’t be taking home a goldfish as a prize like last year.

“Mr. Noodle only lasted for a week,” Wink said.

Chuck Platt, 41, said his kids loved playing the fair games last year, so they returned again this year.

“I grew up in Pennsylvania and it’s pretty common to have pumpkin patches and stuff, but we don’t have a garden or anything,” Platt said. “So I think they see a few things that they don’t normally see around Juneau.”

One of the fair’s lead organizers, Brenda Krauss, said this year’s fair is bigger than last year’s in terms of number of events. The festival technically kicked off Thursday night with a pumpkin catapult event at Sandy Beach with about 75 people in attendance. There was also an event Friday night that featured musical entertainment.

Krauss said the festival cost about $4,000 to host, and if lucky, they might break even, she said. Entrance fees at the door, a silent auction and a pumpkin fundraiser (selling organic pumpkins, which Rainbow Foods procured from Washington, on sale for $2 a pound) would help recover some of the costs, she said.

“It’s not about making money,” Krauss said. “This is a, if possible, break-even event.”

Next year, she says the volunteer board that organizers the fair will try to get a grant or donations to cover the event’s expenses.

About 30 people submitted entries for the culinary contest. One of the crowd favorites on display was pumpkin macaroni and cheese submitted by Jessica Sullivan.

Andrea Thomas submitted Pumpkin Mousse Tart, complete with pecan crust and glazed pecans. Susan Crandell submitted gluten-free Caribbean Pumpkin Pasta, which was seasoned with mushrooms and mushroom broth, pumpkin, rice sticks, onion, garlic wine and Caribbean jerk seasoning.

Not as many people submitted crops to be judged, which wasn’t surprising, Krauss said.

“It was one of the worst growing season in about three years: extra rain, extra dark,” she said. “The combination of moist, cool, it’s really hard to keep things from rotting and keep them growing well.”

Still, the fair attracted throngs of families looking for their first foray into fall fun.

“It’s about bringing people together, some gentle education, a lot of entertainment and a chance to meet with people and sit down — whether it’s over entertainment or over food — and enjoy each others company,” said Krauss of the fair. “That’s the heart of it.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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